High-tech values and the prospect of lower interest rates faced off this week against the reality of constricting macroeconomics and information technology budgets.
Reality won and the
Nasdaq Composite continued its shrinking routine.
"In a contracting environment your
value standards become much tighter. In a loose environment, your standards become wide. This is a decelerating environment," said Scott Turkel, managing partner in
Fed's rate cut this week, persistent optimism on the Street and nearly 10 months of continuous correction, the values of many tech stocks still have an unrealistic ring to skeptics.
"I think that some of the best shorts in the tech area are some of the names with high visibility and have valuations that are still obscene," Turkel said.
It has become a given that IT budgets will contract next year, although predictions vary on how much. In a survey out this week of information executives,
analyst Steve Milunovich estimated that IT budgets will grow an average of only 9% in the coming year, 5% in the U.S. and 13% in Europe.
Some of the executives' top-ranked spending priorities for the coming years were e-commerce and electronic data storage, two tech areas that have carried soaring valuations.
Some of those highflying e-commerce software companies that peaked at breathtakingly high prices in the past have now reached reasonable levels,
analyst Doug Crook suggested in a research note yesterday.
Using price-to-revenue as a measurement, Crook singled out
as undervalued compared with other e-commerce stocks and with high-growth software companies. Crook said those companies peaked at 12 times revenue, while Commerce One, which had once traded at 50 times its estimated revenue, is now trading at five times. But his note still gave weight to growth over other measurements because he did not compare
price to earnings, the traditional measurement of value, saying that margins of the high-growth software companies were still expanding. Commerce One ended the day down $3.38, or 15.4%, to $18.56.
Fellow e-commerce maker
, which peaked at 90 times revenue, is now trading at about 12 times revenue, Crook wrote. Ariba closed off today $8, 81, or 20.5%, to $34.06. (Prudential Securities has no underwriting relationship with Commerce One or Ariba.)
In another traditionally high-value area, storage stocks still command a heavy premium, even over other big tech names.
analyst Shebly Serafi said storage companies, which produce devices and software for electronic data storage, command a premium even over those of established Internet structure stocks.
The storage stocks,
price/earnings-to-growth ratio of about 1.77, he said, a full third above the average of shares of five of the biggest Internet infrastructure stocks, a group that includes
EMC closed off today $6.31, or 8.9%, to $64.38. Emulex was down 11.3%, Veritas was off 12.4%, Network Appliance was down 17.7%, and Brocade was down 8%.
Is that premium for growth worth it? There is justification, said Serafyi. Storage stocks are seen as recession-resistant, "the last to fall and the first to recover," he said. Fundamentals are sound, too -- none of the major storage companies has issued an earnings warning, he said. And executives surveyed by Milunovich rank spending for storage among their top three expenditures for the coming year. (Serafyi's firm has no underwriting relationship with any of the stocks mentioned.)
"There is some justification for paying a premium," Serafyi said. "The question is, how much?"